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What are we to make of these nostalgia-sodden Academy Awards?

Written by The Indian Express | Published:February 27, 2012 3:42 am

What are we to make of these nostalgia-sodden Academy Awards?

The Oscar nominations this year have been a magnificent jumble of other times and other wonders — of looking back with wistfulness,amusement,or something more complex — of making way for the old.

The Artist brings back the moment when the romance and refinement of silent film was pushed aside by the harsh directness of talkies,as does Hugo summon up that heady time when these technologies of illusion were being perfected. Tree of Life was about a lost childhood in the 1950s (if it was about anything),My Week with Marilyn brought a lost star back,to uncanny effect. The Help was about the emergent civil rights movement in the American South,Iron Lady sought to put Margaret Thatcher in teacup-washing perspective. After all,it’s when historical memory wanes,when these facts seem remote from lived experience,that the nostalgia industry takes over. It is necessarily a long-distance relationship.

“Nostos” means to return home,“algia” is longing — and nostalgia is a pseudo-Greek word coined by a Swiss doctor,who considered it a curable disease that afflicted soldiers — a hypochondria of the heart. By the end of the 20th century,with its violent dislocations and changes,nostalgia was pretty much a permanent condition of the soul. Midnight in Paris was the most direct,simple address to that condition — about a young Hollywood hack writing a book about a “nostalgia shop” owner,who just wants to live in Paris of the 1920s,where Cole Porter partied with the Fitzgeralds,where Hemingway was a friendly blusterer,where Dali and Bunuel argued. These characters themselves long for the belle époque,which in turn,has romantic ideas about the Renaissance. It’s a sweet comedy about the inauthenticity of such “Golden Age thinking”,seeking a past that existed only in narrative,and yet,an ode to the helpless way we return to these fantasies.

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